FORT WORTH — Carl Edwards was in denial.
Immediately following a Lap 222 restart in the Duck Commander 500, Edwards felt a vibration with his No. 19 Toyota.
A vibration was the last thing Edwards wanted at the moment.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had started from the pole and led a race- and season-high 124 laps over four stints. He restarted second, in the midst of an all Toyota top four of Matt Kenseth, himself, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.
“I felt the problem right away, and my mistake was I should have pulled to pit road immediately,” Edwards said after finishing seventh. “But they were stacked up behind me.”
Edwards tried to keep his car together while also trying to rationalize the sudden change of fortune.
“Maybe I imagined something, or something is just stuck on the tire,” Edwards said he thought as the field avoided his rapid descent through the field.
The denial kept Edwards out on the track longer than he would have liked.
“As I passed pit road I realized, ‘Whoa, this thing is not good,’ ” Edwards said. “I wasn’t sure … I should’ve pulled off earlier, we would’ve saved more space on the race track because, as it happened, I went another lap slow. That put us pretty far back.”
After pitting – he had a loose right-front wheel – Edwards was back in the pack fighting a losing but “fun” battle with Kasey Kahne for the free pass. That shortened the amount of time Edwards would have to get to the front once he eventually was back on the lead lap.
“He knew what was going on and man, he moved to the top and he was driving his guts out,” Edwards said. “I think if I could have gotten the lucky dog then, I think we would have had a shot at it. This car car was really good. If we could have started top three, we would’ve fought for the win.”
But because of a pit road problem, a common theme this season with JGR teammates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, Edwards missed out on his best attempt at a win after losing a photo finish at Phoenix.
“I got the fastest pit crew on pit road, and they live on that edge and every once in a while they’re going to step over it,” Edwards said.
As Texas-shaped confetti and a mixture of smoke from Busch’s burnout and fireworks filled the air, car owner Joe Gibbs stopped by the No. 19.
“I thought you were going to get it,” Gibbs said, shaking Edwards’ hand.
An odd line to hear from the owner with the most wins this season, it’s one he could have delivered more than once.
Gibbs was on his way to celebrate with Busch in victory lane for the second time in two weeks. It would be his third visit to a Sprint Cup victory lane after also winning the Daytona 500 with Hamlin.
In an alternate universe, Edwards has two wins now, and JGR has wins in at least five of the seven races so far.
Edwards lost a drag race to Kevin Harvick at Phoenix by one-hundreth of a second. A week later at Las Vegas, a vibration slowed Busch’s car enough for him to lose the lead to Brad Keselowski with six laps remaining.
Add in the woes of Kenseth – pit-road penalty at Atlanta and a wheel problem Saturday night – and Gibbs has had to console his drivers as much as celebrate them. It’s a problem that comes with owning a four-car team.
“The hardest thing is just that,” Gibbs said in the media center afterward. “You go to Carl, and you realize that he had an extremely fast car. Things don’t work out for him, and you kind of talk that over. The same thing has happened to Kyle. That’s the tough thing about our sport.
“Of course tonight I had a chance to go over and talk to Matt, too. Matt has had such a tough time. He’s had a fast car I think most of the races we’ve been to, and yet things haven’t worked out for him, so you talk that over.
“I think the general feeling is that he says, ‘Hey, we’re going to get it here pretty quick.’ ”